Biotech set to blossom

Biotechnology can flourish anywhere there is the capital to support it – but researchers need to collaborate and address public uneasiness about their work, says the leader of the first team to map the human genome.

Dr Craig Venter, president and chief scientific officer of Celera Genomics Corporation, was speaking to the Catching the Knowledge Wave conference this morning via video link from the United States.

He said that although biotechnology research has been largely limited to the United States and western Europe, the arrival of the internet has made it possible for researchers around the world to participate.

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Failure becomes fertiliser in knowledge ecology

New Zealanders should not fear failure, but capitalise on it, says the head of one of the most famous technology think tanks in the world.

John Seely Brown, chief scientist at Xerox Corporation and a former head of its Palo Alto research centre, says if you work at the edge of innovation, you will fail some of the time.

“But firms that die return their nutrients to the soil,” he said, adding that he regularly recruits people who have learned from their mistakes.

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Passionate teachers made the difference for top scientist

The New Zealand-born director of pharmacology at a giant US pharmaceutical company says we need to encourage “esoteric research” and high quality teaching at universities, while not underestimating the importance of teaching in our secondary schools.

Jilly Evans, speaking at the Catching the Knowledge Wave conference in Auckland this afternoon, described how her interest in science was stimulated by teacher Neil Akehurst, now teaching at Rangitoto College, who painstakingly built a model of the DNA double helix for his students in the 1960s.

Her second great secondary school mentor is someone she only recently met face to face for the first time, Jean Struthers, who taught chemistry by correspondence. Although she was 70-years-old at the time, Mrs Struthers’ passion for her subject inspired Jilly Evans.

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Solomons radio restricted

Despite a peace agreement between the government and militants, Solomon Islands broadcasters continue to work under state-of-emergency laws.

The media are prohibited from reporting freely on ethnic violence that has resulted in at least eight deaths and caused as many as 15,000 people to flee their homes.

Ironically, the news story that cannot be fully told has taken place in villages just a few kilometers from the headquarters of state-owned Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) on the island of Guadalcanal.

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Solomons radio stations launched

Despite civil unrest and government restrictions on the media, two new radio stations have recently taken to the air in Honiara, capital of Solomon Islands.

The Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) has launched Wantok FM. Wantok (literally “one talk” in the Pidgin language, meaning “people who speak our language” or “our kin”) covers mainly the capital city but also reaches portions of nearby islands.

SIBC general manager Johnson Honimae said the station is designed to appeal to youth, and was built with support from the government of Taiwan.

The other newcomer is Paoa-FM (“Power FM” in Pidgin). The station is a joint venture between a local newspaper and Communications Fiji Ltd (CFL), which runs three radio stations in Fiji and two in Papua New Guinea.

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Indonesian election rejuvenates Radio Australia

More than 100 million Indonesians went to the polls in June, voting in their country’s first free elections since 1944.

Even though it took several weeks to count the ballots, it was soon clear that voters had rejected the ruling Golkar Party which had been led by President Suharto until his resignation amid civil unrest last year.

From a field of 48 parties, voters in the world’s largest Muslim nation favoured a secular party, the Indonesian Democracy Party-Struggle (PDIP), lead by a woman, Megawati Sukarnoputri.

“This election was quite different from the ones before,” said Indonesian-born Juni Tampi, who has worked at Radio Australia for the past 14 years.

“In past elections, you knew Golkar would be the winner, so there was nothing exciting. But this one was more interesting because everyone was looking forward to see who the winner would be.”

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New Zealand radio’s big myth

For years, the New Zealand radio industry has trumpeted that this country has “more radio stations per capita than anywhere else”.

This “fact” has been repeated by countless journalists who apparently can’t be bothered working out the numbers for themselves.

In 1999 I sent the following letter to the editor of Unlimited magazine, and an abridged version subsequently appeared in the magazine.

Dear editor:

On what basis did Mark Story and Russell Brown decide that “New Zealand has more radio stations per capita than anywhere else in the world” (Stayin’ Alive, Unlimited, June 1999)?

A quick glance around our own backyard, the Pacific, turns up at least ten countries or territories with higher ratios than New Zealand.

The Cook Islands, for example, have twice as many stations per capita as New Zealand. Niue has eleven times as many. And Norfolk Island, with 3 radio stations for a population of 2200, has roughly 25 times as many stations per capita as New Zealand.

Isn’t it about time journalists stopped recycling this myth about New Zealand radio and moved on to investigate the real issues: whether deregulation has truly increased competition in the radio industry and whether having more radio stations has given us better radio service?

Neil Sanderson

Background Note:

Population figures are estimates as at July 1998 from CIA World Fact Book:

Population 3,625,388. 200 radio stations (your figure).

Cook Islands
Population 19,989. 2 radio stations: CIBS and KC FM.

Population 1,647. 1 radio station: Radio Sunshine.

Norfolk Island
Population 2197. 3 radio stations: VL2NI-AM, ABC Regional and ABC Fine Music.
Not counted: VL2NI-FM which is mostly simulcast of VL2NI-AM.

Other countries/territories in the Pacific with higher ratios than NZ: French Polynesia, Guam, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Northern Marianas Islands, Palau, Tuvalu. (Several other places have ratios similar to NZ and the ratios are increasing as new stations are built.)

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Distant broadcasters find common ground

At first, Sonam Tshong had a tough time convincing people he was serious. 

Few people believed Tshong would travel more than 10,000 kilometers from the Himalayan mountains to study broadcasting in a country that is barely visible on many world maps. 

His friends and colleagues wouldn’t have thought it unusual if, on the other hand, Tshong had wanted to visit London to observe the BBC, or Melbourne for a look at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

But Tshong, managing director of the state-owned broadcasting system in the Kingdom of Bhutan, knew what he wanted. 

In April 1998, he and station engineer Dorji Wangchuk left the landlocked mountains of Bhutan to spend two weeks nearer sea level in the Fiji Islands of the south Pacific. 

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Tricky paths to signal distribution

Getting a signal from the studio to the transmitter is a growing challenge for radio engineers in the Pacific islands.

Until a few years ago, most stations used landlines to feed programming to their medium-wave or short-wave AM transmitters. In an attempt to cut operating costs while improving audio quality, many stations now broadcast on networks of low power FM transmitters.  These transmitters may be on remote mountains or islands, hundreds of kilometers from the studio.

Telephone company landlines often do not extend to remote transmitters. Even if they do, the cost may be more than a broadcaster can afford.

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Live radio resurges in Australia

Just when it appeared automation would rule the airwaves, live radio is enjoying a minor resurgence in Australia, thanks in part to syndicated programming. The general manager of Sky Radio Network, Brendan Sheedy, said his company supplies at least some syndicated service to virtually all of Australia’s 160 commercial radio stations, and most of it is live. 

“We’re probably the biggest syndicator in Australia, and the only major player in the live format business,” said Sheedy. 

That’s impressive growth for the Sydney-based network that began just seven years ago.

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